My Best New Year’s Resolution

One December evening in 2008 I attended my Brother’s December graduation ceremony at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Bannockburn, Illinois. D.A. Carson delivered the graduation message that evening. He spoke from Deuteronomy 17:14-21. As he explained God’s admonition in Deuteronomy 17:18, Dr. Carson briefly commented that God had commanded the King of Israel to “handwrite the Book of Deuteronomy in his own hand in Hebrew longhand.”

“Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites” (Deut 17:18).

Immediately as Dr. Carson said the words “in his own hand,” I felt the Holy Spirit speak within my heart, “I want you to do that!” The words “in his own hand” lodged in my mind. But, as I travelled back to Kansas City, and I was not sure how to handwrite Scripture in my own hand—I had never done it before, nor had I ever heard of anyone doing it.

As New Year’s Day approached, I considered if there were any concrete actions that I could do to improve my spiritual walk. It was then that the idea of handwriting the Book of Deuteronomy returned to my mind. I determined to handwrite the Book of Deuteronomy in January 2009, one chapter per day.

Since I do not make New Year’s Resolutions as promises to the Lord, I was not about to promise a length of Scripture that I would write every day. But as I considered the task before me, one chapter a day for the month of January seemed doable.

So, on January 2, 2009, as the house was quieting down from all the festivities of the day before, I took out a 3-ring binder with paper and a pen, and began to handwrite Deuteronomy. I copied word-for-word from the New American Standard Bible onto the loose-leaf paper in the binder. I soon found that it took me between 30-60 minutes to write one chapter, depending on the length of the chapter.

I instantly became captivated as I began writing the first several verses in chapter one. Then I became more and more motivated the father I went in the book. While chapters 2 and 3 have some repetition, once I got to Chapter 4 I was hooked. The first time I wrote the Ten Commandments in Chapter 5 my hands were shaking. I kept making mistakes with my ballpoint pen, because I was assuming words and word order that were not in the text. It was both frustrating and exciting at the same time. It was at this point that the exact words and word order became very important to me.

Within a week I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night and asking myself, “I wonder what will come next.” On several nights, when I could not sleep, I went downstairs to the kitchen table to handwrite Scripture at 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. I handwrote 2 or 3 verses, clearly heard the voice of the Lord speaking to me through the words of His Word, and return to bed and slept like a baby.

Every word became captivating to me. The topics were wide-ranging, and yet there was a regular repetition of themes. By the time I got to Deuteronomy 28, I was so captivated with every word that I even began writing down variant readings in the margin of my 3-ring paper. I began to fall in love with the words of the Word of God—really for the first time.

Although I had memorized Psalm 119:97, it was not until January 2009 that I began to understand the words that I had previously committed to memory:

“Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97)

It was a truly amazing time for me spiritually. I felt like my soul was being cleansed and plowed by the Word of God.

Prior to that time my devotional life had consisted primarily of reading different portions of Scripture and memorizing gospel verses and whole Psalms. My devotional life had been pretty regular since my college days in 1981. But after January 2009 handwriting Scripture become a serious passion for me.

There has been a wide variety of approaches that I have taken to handwriting. I am in my third time through Deuteronomy, currently handwriting Deut 30. I have handwritten in English, French, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac. Sometimes I have written in one language only, at other times I have written all six languages at the same time. When I wrote each verse in six languages, I found my devotions to be very slow and tedious. So I eliminated languages. My most common methodology is to handwrite in two languages: French and Greek. I have also handwritten in modern Bibles and in Reformation-era Bibles.

After completing Deuteronomy for the first time, I handwrote from Galatians to Hebrews in the New Testament. Then in January 2010, I went through Deuteronomy in a modern French translation. It was during my second time through Deuteronomy that I began to alternate days, handwriting in the Old Testament one day and the New Testament on the next.

I currently write one verse at a time, in French and then Greek, pondering the meaning of each word, and studying the words and related passages and themes that cross my mind as I handwrite. Sometimes I may only write one verse, at other times I may write three or four verses. Early on I learned the need for freedom in handwriting, being willing to change up how I have my devotions as I am led by the Lord.

In 2012 one of my former students gave me for Christmas the Journibles version of Deuteronomy. Journibles is a series of hardcover devotional books that are printed so as to facilitate Scripture handwriting. They are published by Reformation Heritage Press. I was so excited to learn that someone else had discovered the power of handwriting Scripture, and provided a tool to encourage that spiritual discipline.

In an age of cut and paste from digital Bible software, it is refreshing to see a new movement of handwriting Scripture. A special thanks to Rob Wynalda for his Journibles series, and for authoring the “17:18 Series” (see: www.fullquiver5.com).*

Handwriting Scripture has literally revolutionized my devotional life! I commend it to you, dear reader. Get a notebook and a pen and begin handwriting Scripture. It may very well transform your devotional life. Consider beginning with the Book of Deuteronomy, specifically written for the devotional life of the Kings of Israel. Perhaps order the Journibles version if that sounds interesting to you.

“My son, keep my words, And treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, And my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov 7:1-3).

*I have received no financial remuneration for this endorsement. I just happen to be appreciative of the product.

 

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Salvation a Matter of the Heart from Deut 30:6

The Book of Deuteronomy has an interesting change after the few blessings and many curses in Deuteronomy 28. These changes are preceded by five uses of the word “heart,” three in Deut 29:18-19, another in Deut 30:1, and the fifth in Deut 30:2.

A triple use of “heart” is found in a warning to take seriously the curses of Chapter 28:

Deut 29:18-19, “so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober.”

In this case, Moses wrote that all the curses of Deut 28 would cling to this person, since he presumes to follow the dictates of their own heart, and does not allow the blessings and curses of Deut 28 to humble him.

Then comes an interesting call to “receive into one’s heart” these same blessings and curses. This statement comes in Deut 30:1:

Deut 30:1, “Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you receive them into your heart among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you.”

The translation “and you receive [them] into your heart” is a direct translation of the Greek LXX, which reads, “kai dexê eis tên kardian sou.” Deuteronomy continues by God giving the promise result of “receiving [them] into their heart”—that being, restoration to the Promised Land.

Then Deut 30:6 restates two commands found in the preceding text of Deuteronomy. It is in these two commands that is revealed that an important paradigm shift is communicated after the blessings and curses of Deut 28. Let us first consider the two commands at issue:

Deut 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Deut 10:16, “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.”

The first command is to love the Lord. The second command is to circumcise one’s heart. Both of these commands are required of man to accomplish. However, a drastic change is made after a person responds positively from their heart to the blessings and curses of Deut 28—God promises to do the very things that He required in the prior context!

Deut 30:6, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

So, in Deut 30:6 God states that He will do the very things that He commanded the readers of Deuteronomy to do several chapters earlier: He would circumcise the hearts, and He would give the reader a love for Him. In both of these propositional statements the covenant name of God is used, that is “the Lord” or YHWH. Also both of these promised results speak of “the heart”, following a proper reception into the heart (Deut 30:1) of the message of the blessings and curses of Deut 28.

What an amazing and unexpected reversal in Deuteronomy!

Here is some of God’s heart-work as revealed in Deut 29-30:

  1. God must give a heart to perceive: “Yet the LORD has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” Deut 29:4
  2. God reveals Himself through His word: “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” Deut 30:14
  3. God explains the need for a proper hearing: “But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them” Deut 30:17

The result of this positive reception “in the heart” according to Deut 30:6 is to receive life. Hence, Deut 30:6 ends, “that you may live.” God giving the required attributes for salvation and then as a result giving life—it sounds like salvation in the New Testament!

And Jesus, when He came, was the embodiment of the blessing and the curse, who came to give life. And we Christians as his messengers also bear the blessing and the curse as we share the gospel with others. To some an aroma of life to life, and to others an aroma of death to death, and who is adequate for these things (2 Cor 2:16)?

It appears quite likely, that in this sudden change God prefigured His saving action through sending Jesus Christ and offering salvation full and free, merely from a positive reception in and response from the heart. Was this not the idea when Philip spoke to the Ethiopian Eunuch of the importance of belief in Jesus “from the whole heart”?

Acts 8:37, “Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”

True, saving faith is always a matter of the heart. So also Paul wrote of saving faith:

Rom 10:9-10, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

 

A New Look at an Old Verb

The 1999, 2009 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) reintroduced a Middle English translation when its translators used the verb “evangelize” six and seven times in the New Testament. The context of these seven uses is amazing and powerful.

Here are those seven times:

  • Acts 8:25, “Then after the apostles had given extensive testimony and had spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem. En route they were evangelizing many of the Samaritan towns.”
  • Acts 8:40, “Philip, on the other hand, was found at Azotus. So he passed through all the (western) towns, evangelizing until he came to Caesarea.”
  • Acts 14:7, “And there they kept evangelizing.”
  • Acts 14:21, “After they had evangelized in Derbe and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and (Pisidian) Antioch.”
  • Acts 16:10, “After his vision, we at once were seeking to depart for Macedonia, inferring that God had called us to evangelize them.”
  • Rom 15:20, “in such a way as to realize my ambition of evangelizing where Christ has not been named, so that I might not build on another man’s foundation.”
  • 1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize—not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.”

Clearly, the verb “evangelize” in its New Testament (NT) context refers to a traveling herald of the gospel. It also relates in context to the beginning of the gospel work in an area. Hence, Paul was initiating work the work of the gospel in Macedonia, and wanted to do so in other places also. In1 Corinthians, Paul stated that his ultimate mission was not baptizing, but rather evangelizing. All of these are powerful uses of this important verb.

As amazing as these seven uses of “evangelize” are, they represent only 13% of the total NT uses of this important verb. Before looking more closely at the biblical use of the verb “evangelize,” let’s discuss why this topic is important and relevant. Use of the verb “evangelize” in the Bible:

  • Relates to the Great Commission given to the church, in other words, the raison d’être of the church.
  • Correlates with the order of conversion, one of the most important and most hotly debated topics in Christian theology.
  • Engenders debate and disagreement in the practice of NT Christianity, leading to significant differences of opinion.

For a precedent to this translation of the verb “evangelize” one has to traverse back in time and search the pages of Wycliffe’s First Edition of 1382. In this edition of the Wycliffe Bible, the verb “evangelise” was used 34 times. However, 6 years later, after the death of Wycliffe in 1834, the Wycliffe translation was revised. One key change was the removal of 33 uses of “evangelizing” and replacing them with “preaching.” That change resulted in a 632-year veil over the term to English-only readers.

The addition of “the gospel” to “preach” took place after John Darby translated “evangelize” in English as “announce glad tidings” in 1884. Since that time the standard translation of the “evangelize” has been “preach the gospel.” Hence, the 1885 English Revised Version translated “evangelize” as “preach the gospel” 25 times.

Several problems emerge from using the verb “preach” as the primary translation of “evangelize.” First, use of the verb relates primarily to ordained people. This played into the hands of state churches who sought to keep control of preaching. They did not want lay people preaching, so they had to muffle the use of the verb “evangelize” by making it apply only to those who had the [invented] “Sacrament of Holy Orders.” A second problem was the limitation of “evangelizing” to men only. The state church did not affirm a women’s role to evangelize. The third problem the translation of “evangelize” to “preach the gospel” is the limitation of “evangelizing” to preaching within the four walls of the church building. Evangelizing is differentiated from preaching primarily by its location and audience: outside the church and to non-believers.

But because the printing presses were controlled by state churches, the primary translation that has come down to us, from Greek lexicons and other Greek grammars, has been tainted by the state-church construct. It is no wonder that once Wycliffe died, his translation was changed to appease the Catholic Bishops in the English Church at the time.

As time progressed, the printing presses were wrestled from the hands of non-Reformation and Reformation state churches. However, the limitations imposed by use of the word “preach” were never reversed until modern times.

However, amazingly the HCSB reversed a 632 year state church lockbox on the use of “evangelize” in English translations of the Bible. And yet, even while the HCSB made this giant step forward, what of the 87% other uses of “evangelize”?

Here are four examples of other NT uses of “evangelize”:

  • Jesus said, “I must evangelize” (Luke 4:43).
  • Paul wrote, “For if I evangelize, I have no reason to boast, because an obligation is placed on me. And woe to me if I do not evangelize!” (1 Cor 9:16).
  • Paul wrote, “Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel which I evangelized to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message which I evangelized to you—unless you believed for no purpose” (1 Cor 15:1-2).
  • Paul wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should evangelize you other than how we evangelized you, a curse be on him!” (Gal 1:8)

The verb “evangelize” is actually found a significant number few times in both the OT and NT:

  • The Old Testament LXX used the verb 23 times.
  • The New Testament Greek uses the verb 54, 55, or 56 times, depending on the Greek text which one consults.

Two notable OT uses are:

  • Isaiah 40:9, “O Zion, You who evangelize, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who evangelize, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”
  • Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains Are the feet of him who evangelizes, Who proclaims peace, Who evangelizes good things, Who proclaims salvation, Who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

Most notably, Isaiah 52:7 is quoted in Romans 10:15, with its one or two uses of the verb “evangelize,” again depending on the Greek text one is using.

NT usages of “evangelize” are found as follows:

  • Luke-Acts, 25 or 26 uses: 10 in Luke; 15 or 16 in Acts.
  • Pauline, 20/21 or 22/23 uses: depending if Paul wrote Hebrews.
  • Six other uses: 3 in 1 Peter, 2 in Revelation, 1 in Matthew.

Comparison of versions that used the verb “evangelize”:

  • 435 A.D.: Latin Vulgate:
    43 uses of evangelize out of 55 in the Greek text of that day.
  • 14th Century English: Wycliffe:
    36 uses in 1st edition (1382);
    3 in 2nd edition (1388).
  • 16th Century French Texts:
    13 uses in Protestant Olivétan (1534);
    4 in Catholic Louvain (1550);
    24 in French Geneva (1560).
  • 1560 Geneva Bibles:
    24 uses in French Geneva;
    0 uses in English Geneva (and 0 in 1611 KJV).
  • Darby Bibles:
    21 in French Darby (1859);
    1 in English Darby (1884).
  • Holman Christian Standard Bibles:
    6 uses (1999 edition);
    7 uses (2009 edition)!

Summary and conclusion:

  • From the time of the Middle Ages evangelizing was deemed a threat to state church monopolies, being considered treasonous behavior.
  • From at least the 11th Century on, no motivated lay person was to usurp the office of preaching (or “evangelizing”), which was only conferred by the “Sacrament of Holy Orders”—which among other things included training in Latin and the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, and enforced celibacy.
  • Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, were known for their evangelism fervor, which may have been fueled by seeing the verb “evangelize” 36 times in the 1382 Wycliffe First Edition of the New Testament.
  • Removal of the verb from the text of the New Testament in the 1388 Wycliffe Second Edition appeared to be an attempt to squelch the evangelism fervor of the Lollards.

Perhaps the current reawakening of the use of “evangelize” in the HCSB will result in a renewed biblical understanding of evangelism, as well as lead to a resurgence of NT evangelism!